A well-known face among Charolais cattle breeders, David Benson, will need no introduction to our readers this week. He started as a stockman and ended up as being chief executive of the British Charolais Cattle Society. Here’s what he told us ...


I wasn’t brought up from a farming background, but I loved anything outdoor and rural activities, so I found myself studying Agriculture at Newcastle University.

I wanted to be a farm manager, but at that time there wasn’t a lot doing, until Billy Turner, of the Brampton Charolais, North Yorkshire, offered me a job in 1975. I graduated on June 26, married my wife, Medwyn, on June 28 and two weeks later began my career as stockman.

Billy and Jane were running just 15 cows at the time as a sideline for his mixed enterprise running 450 acres of arable and sheep, I was lucky enough to get involved with it all!

It was a steep learning curve, as I had never worked with pedigree stock before. It was more labour intensive back then. We managed to build the cattle up to 97 cows and Richard Rettie also came to work alongside me straight from school, which was his introduction to Charolais cattle.

Read more: New man at the helm of BCCS

The first bull Brampton sold was at the Perth Bull Sales, Brampton Lordship, for 2900gns, the main focus then was Perth and Carlisle bull sales twice a year. During my career at Brampton, we sold 116 bulls at Perth, with only one not being sold.


Billy Turner, David Benson and Richard Rettie at the Brampton herd

Billy Turner, David Benson and Richard Rettie at the Brampton herd


Where did showing begin for you?

Three years into the job we took the plunge and ventured to the Royal Show with the two-year-old heifer, Brampton Mull. She stood second in a class of 28, which really was a great start to our show career.

Biggest showing achievements?

In 1980, Parsonage Nebulus stood breed champion as well as securing the Burke Trophy for the inter-breed at the Royal. He was bought in as a calf at foot with his dam from the Parsonage dispersal.

Just two years later, we almost swept the board at the Royal Show, having bagged breed champion, junior bull, reserve female champion and group of three – a day to remember!

The Great Yorkshire was another we always ventured to and luckily managed to land the inter-breed title three years on the trot – 1980, 1981, 1982 – with Parsonage Nebulus, then Brampton Mull and back to Nebulus for the third year.

Career as Charolais CEO?

The first day in office I thought what the hell am I doing here! But I soon got stuck in. I loved it, it was very different back then as we had no mobile phones or laptops, so a lot of the communication was late at night on the landline!

I was offered the job in 1988 and gained a lifetime experience having retired in 2017. It is something I wouldn’t have been able to do without the support of my family as well – Medwyn and our two daughters, Vicky and Jenny.

What do you look for in an animal?

The fundamental of any animal has to be correct in structure, with good feet and legs. The breed character must shine through the animal with a good level top line.

For a bull I would be looking for something that is smooth fleshed with masculinity in his head. It goes without saying a bull must have testicles which are firm and well developed. I have never been fond of the hard muscled bulls.

Females need to look feminine with a well set udder and again the hard muscle types never breed well.

Charolais place in the commercial market?

It is the top terminal sire in the industry, there is no doubt about that. There is still a premium for Charolais store cattle, you can see finishers eagerly bidding for them at the auction centres and the value of the store rings is a testament to the breed.

Has the breed changed for the better over the years?

Definitely. When you look at old photos from 30 years ago, the bulls would be unsaleable today. Breeders have responded and adapted to market demands, and with fewer staff on farms they need to have easier managed cattle with calves easily born which are soon on their feet and ready to suckle.

The breed used to be bigger and heavier because the market paid for it. Now, with tighter market specifications, cattle need to be easier calved and finished quicker to target weight and conformation specifications, which the Charolais as a breed is good at.

If you had to choose another breed, what would it be?

I wouldn’t. I was once told I was like ‘a stick of rock’ as I am Charolais right through! Over my career I was approached from other societies, but I was committed to the Charolais and perhaps brain-washed – there is no other breed for me!

Best Highland Show memory?

Being invited to Jimmy Wilson’s lorry for a kist party! He was the king of the sheep in those days and his lorry was all equipped with carpets, beds the lot. I was honoured to get invited. I was always known as the little quiet lad listening in the corner, if only we had a crystal ball back then!

Best sale day?

Perth Bull Sales in 1984. We had 13 bulls there but our pen leader, Brampton Token realised 11,000gns, the third highest price at that time.

Have you missed out on any purchase you wanted?

We were real good friends with Tommy Handley and he offered us a young bull calf, Culverham Theodor, for £5000 privately. Billy and I made the decision that it was too much money for a calf back in those days.

Theodor went on to make the then joint breed record price of 28,000gns at the Perth Bull Sales for Tommy in 1983 ... but it was great to celebrate with him!

The best animal that you’ve ever shown?

Parsonage Nebulus and the best female would have to be Brampton Mull as she was home bred. Both of them had a great gentle nature which is what is needed in any cattle, but the conformation and style throughout allowed us to do well with them both.

But what is the best animal you have ever seen?

I have seen a lot of excellent animals over the years, but I have narrowed it down to my top four, all with tremendous breed character and modern style!

My two females would be Kilkenny Celia and Mowbraypark Gigi, with the two bulls that stand out being Barnsford Ferny and Maerdy Flambeau.

If I had to choose one, though, it would have to be Celia as she did the grand slam of inter-breed Royal Show titles – Royal Welsh, Royal Highland Show and the Royal Show – which is a hard one to beat!

Abiding memory?

I have lots and lots … but one that will always stand out was being nominated as Charolais International President in 2016, being the only non-breeder to have been awarded the role.

Biggest disappointment?

When bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) struck, the price of Charolais cattle dropped from in excess of £1000 to £250 when everything over 30 months was incinerated. They were very difficult times for several years. Along with the TB, which was another huge hit to the breed and of course the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001.

Most influential person?

Billy Turner – he got me on the map and introduced me to Charolais cattle.

Best stockman?

Tom Cottam, his ability and knowledge were something else and he had a great eye for stock. The way he bounced back every time after any fall back was inspiring. He was one of the first men to start soaping up Charolais cattle and he was a bit of a gambler but a very fast learner.

Who has the best kist parties?

The place to be was in the Charolais Pavilion at the Royal Show. It was always packed with stockmen from all over the country!

One year I will never forget was when Willie Thomson, of Howman Grange, piped everyone up to the Charolais bar with his bagpipes after the NSA bar had closed early.

Best quote?

‘If it’s not broken don’t mend it’ OR ‘If you see a stick cut it’!

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

Get TB eradicated.

Best advice to someone starting off?

Use a Charolais bull!

Best investment?

A wedding ring for my wife, Medwyn.

Judging experiences?

In 1991 I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to travel over to Zimbabwe for the Royal Harare Show to judge the breed section. It was the first time the Charolais had taken the inter-breed so it was even more special. A good time was had by all!

Something you thought you would never achieve, but have?

Completing 29 years as British Charolais CEO and having a brilliant farewell party at Gretna. There was never a day went by that I got up and didn’t want to go to work, I truly did believe I had the best job in the world!

I was living the dream, my career is full of happy memories and I always like to have a glass half full, rather than half empty. The Charolais breeders are like a family – they have always been extra special to me. And with not having a big turnover of staff, I would like to think I was a good boss!

Future of the showing circuit?

It is a breeder’s shop window, which is a crucial part to selling any livestock, from getting enquiries for semen or cattle, spectators are able to see the best stock available. I would hope livestock breeders will continue to show their livestock when they get a chance as it brings so many opportunities, but it is also a great social occasion.